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Polly Fry, PhD.  Producer, Writer and Researcher

Historian/writer/documentary producer Polly Fry began work on Minnesota: A History of the Land in the spring of 1990.  After graduating with a PhD. in American Studies from the University of Minnesota in 1999 she contributed research and writing for Minnesota: River and Fields, a 13-part documentary for Pioneer Public Television, which aired in February 2000. In addition to her documentary work she has taught at the University of Minnesota and Gustavus Adolphus College. Several of her historical essays appeared in the Dictionary of American History. Her work has focused on people and the real and imagined landscapes they call home.

What was the biggest challenge for you in your role in Minnesota: A History of the Land?
There have been a number of enormous challenges for me.  The first challenge was also the most rewarding and that was tackling the tremendous learning curve on this project.  I began the project with a lot of research experience, particularly around the environmental history of Minnesota, but I had little film experience.  I have been fortunate to work with people on this project, like John Whitehead, Jim Kron, and Jerry Lakso who were eager to share their knowledge. I also had an Executive Producer, Barb Coffin, who was willing to let me take on new tasks as they arose.  Another major challenge on this project was to hold it all in my head at one time.  To understand how each piece of this vast jigsaw puzzle fit together.  We shot over 100 on camera interviews and more than 200 hours of video.  The challenge was to remember and understand what we had to work with and then how interviews, footage, maps, quotes, and images would all work together to tell the story of a segment and then how those segments would fit into the hour and the series.

What is a favorite moment/anecdote in the process of producing the series?
There have been too many wonderful moments on this project to pick just one.  There were incredibly moving moments when we were interviewing people about landscapes they cared about.  Listening to Winona LaDuke talk about what the landscape around White Earth means to her had us all mesmerized.  Finding long lost footage of one of Minnesota’s environmental heroes, Ernest Oberholtzer, and then sharing that with people who knew and loved him was a remarkable opportunity.  Lastly, so many of my favorite memories of the project revolve around the incredible ways people gave of their time and knowledge.  There are too many to mention, but I will always be grateful for the way Chuck Wick, Paul Shurke and the folks at Wintergreen Lodge worked in –35 degree temperatures to make the Sigurd Olson re-creation so authentic.   And, we shot the footage on Mallard Island on Rainy Lake during a period of flooding and heavy rains, yet Bob Hilke drove us back and forth across the lake through white caps and downpours.  Everywhere we went Minnesotans were giving of their time and knowledge about their local landscapes.  

Why is the series important? Why should viewers watch the series? What can viewers expect to learn?
This series is so important because it creates a shared memory of how Minnesota’s landscapes have been shaped by human hands.  As we say in the last episode we have made a lot of mistakes in the past, and we should learn from those mistakes.  We face a lot of challenges as we look to what the future holds for Minnesota. This series provides us with a sense of history that we can carry forward into that uncertain future.  This series also offers an enormous sense of hope.  Hope that derives from the ways in which people today and in the past care for and are nourished by the landscapes they call home.

Polly Fry, PhD.
Producer, Writer and


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